It’s essential to disclose your mental health before joining the military. If you live with ADHD, understanding the guidelines for qualification can help you get support during recruitment.

Joining the military is a dream of many citizens, but some criteria determine eligibility. Whether it be the:

  • Army
  • Air Force
  • Coast Guard
  • Marines
  • Navy

The criteria involve skills, aptitude, and physical standards, including a mental health evaluation that addresses attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Each person receives an evaluation at the Military Entrance and Processing Station (MEPS) to assess the criteria.

It’s important to note that guidelines aren’t only in place for those with ADHD. Those who take daily medication for other conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, and other mental health disorders, may also be disqualified.

People with ADHD aren’t disqualified from joining the military, with more than 41,000 people with ADHD being in the military. In addition, research suggests that about 1.7% to 3.9% of those who served in the military between 2008 and 2018 had ADHD.

But, there are some guidelines to consider that were put in place by the Department of Defense (DOD).

During the physical standards test at the MEPS, a military doctor uses the International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes to determine if an individual is ineligible or will need a medical waiver to join the military.

The doctor asks for medical and psychiatric history and performs a physical examination.

The section of the DOD directive that applies to those with ADHD is 6.28., “Learning, Psychiatric, and Behavioral Disorders.” This section includes:

A doctor may decide someone can’t join the military if the person’s mental health contributed to struggles with academia or other work once they were older than 12.

It can also happen when the person has a history of being unable to adjust in school, at work, or in social groups. Additionally, using ADHD medication to stay on track academically at the time of testing at MEPS can disqualify someone.

While having ADHD qualifies students for accommodations at school, they won’t have them during testing at MEPS. The DOD has specific qualifications, and if you relate to any of the following, you may get disqualified:

  • being recommended for or having an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 Plan, or work accommodations when over the age of 14
  • having a history of comorbid mental disorders
  • using medications during the past 24 months
  • having documentation of detrimental or negative academic or work performance

According to the United States Naval Academy (USNA), ADHD doesn’t disqualify someone from service. But, it’s indicated that there are still qualifications, including being off medication for at least 1 year and demonstrating academic success.

While ADHD and other mental health conditions don’t disqualify someone from military service, prior planning is required. It’s also important that you practice healthy coping techniques to cope with conditions you once used medication for.

If you live with ADHD, a medical waiver can be used to formally request eligibility for joining the military. This waiver will explain if you have shown success at school or work without medication for a specific time.

Your doctor or psychiatrist can also include a statement that indicates your symptoms don’t interfere with the tasks required of military personnel.

If you can receive this waiver from a medical professional, you’ll likely be allowed to join, but the final decision is up to the specific military branch you want to join.

Obtaining the medical waiver requires planning because you must have a one-year history of being off medication while showing success. In order to receive a medical waiver the following is required:

  • not taking medication for at least 1 year
  • showing academic or job success for 1 year
  • showing maturity and stability while unmedicated
  • passing a psychiatric evaluation

The various military branches have similar guidelines regarding ADHD and mental health. Each branch has qualification requirements involving:

  • physical
  • mental
  • behavioral aspects

It’s important to be honest and fully transparent about your medical history, including your mental health. If you take daily medication or might need medication to work and learn, you may be excluded from military service.

Failure to disclose ADHD and other mental health concerns can result in detrimental effects of untreated conditions.

Providing false information about your history can also result in being discharged or prosecuted later for giving false information. When you’re open about your mental health, you can also get the help you need before joining the military so you can meet the guidelines.

Coral Link, a therapist from Whole Therapy in Denver, Colorado, explains that it’s essential to be fully transparent about your mental health so you receive the appropriate support and accommodations.

She further details, “Concealing such information can lead to challenges that might affect performance or safety. For those with other mental health issues, openness is equally important. It allows for a realistic assessment of one’s suitability for service and the potential impact on mental health in high-stress environments. Transparency is key to ensuring both personal health and the effectiveness of military operations.”

While there are guidelines for a person with ADHD to join the military, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

If you’re interested in joining the military, options are available for you to receive the guidance you need. With support, you can receive a medical waiver that may allow you to join the military and achieve your goals.

If you have ADHD and want to join the military, you can talk with a recruiter about your options. Being fully transparent lets you get the best information to help you proceed while protecting your health and well-being.